a mizo culture map

"Mizoram has the most variegated hilly terrain in the eastern part of India. The hills are steep (avg. height 1000 metres) and separated by rivers which flow either to the north or south creating deep gorges between the hill ranges. The highest peak in Mizoram is the Phawngpui (Blue Mountain) with a height of 2210 metres." (from Wikipedia)

I've been working on a mental map of mizo(-ram, -ness) for a while now. The idea was to make a visual representation of what it meant to be Mizo. The first part was easy- I sent out a mail to the Mizos I know, asking them for the top-of-the-mind associations they made with Mizoram/Mizo identity. A little harder was getting responses, thanks a heap to those of you that did. The hardest part was translating the variety (wow!) of data I got into a comprehensible visual. 

I knew that I wanted to represent it as hills (obviously) and was playing with various adaptations of contour maps, but couldn't come up with anything that made sense. I'd almost abandoned hope of ever getting anywhere when it suddenly struck me last night that I was looking at the whole thing from the wrong angle. A pre-occupation with maps had me thinking contours, so looking *down from above. A much more natural position is to look at it from the side! And what better way to do that than in a graph!

Here are the results, then. I have clubbed a few things together, such as grouping all the various vegetable names under Mizo Chawhmeh, Synod and Church under Church etc. The results are fairly interesting. The top five mentions are:

1. Mizo chawhmeh. Chawhmeh literally means eaten with rice, the staple, and refers to various herbs, vegetables and fermented things we like to eat)

2. Church. This is not surprising, considering how much of Mizo social life is centered around the church and church-related activities.

3. Things. Ok, ok, this is hardly a coherent label. Under this, though I have grouped items of material culture that are familiar to most Mizos, like ar-bawm (a woven box where chicken are kept), chem (a machete-type knife) and em (a basket used to carry things).

4. Vawksa (pork). There were so many mentions of this it deserved it's own category. Of 10 responses, 8 were for vawksa-rep(smoked) and 2 for vawksa-chhum boiled). We are obviously a culture obsessed with food, eh?

5. The 5th place is tied between funerals, puan and singing.
  • Funerals: Not surprising either, considering how the community gets together in times of bereavement, and give the bereaved family tremendous support.
  • Puan: Mizo garment, like a sarong, still very popular with the women, though the men have sadly abandoned it in daily life. The puan is the most obvious element of Mizo visual culture. While there are traditional and festive designs, contemporary weavers have come out with new designs and these change with the change in fads and fashions.
  • Singing: Mizos love to sing. We sing when we are happy and when we are sad, and most often as a group. There are all-night sings held most commonly when some one had died or in the weeks preceding Christmas. 
Surprises: I expected the YMA to be a lot more in people's consciousness than it is. It comes a distant #10. The most interesting response was "stale fish from Silchar". 

Please remember, NONE of this is REMOTELY scientific. This is an art project, not an anthropological one. My subjectivity is probably showing, right from the people I asked (most live outside Mizoram) to the way I grouped data. This is also a rather shallow approach to understanding culture, and I hope this is treated as an *entry point to introspection/exploration rather than a result of it.

I got the hills I wanted, though, and am happy!

EDIT: I didn't mean the lines of text under the 'hills' to be read. For me, they signify the rivers/streams of Mizoram. On hindsight, they also look like a mirror image in water. I'll leave you to your own interpretation though!


Gauri Gharpure said...

very interesting reading and a fruitful exercise.. i have made a mental note of some words. :)

Peer Gynt said...

ohh this is loooovely!

wish i could read the little comments below the graphs too. btw am proud to say 've made the puan popular in office and after what you've said, 'm thinkin twud be fun to tell the men here that its meant for them to wear too. 'll see if i find any takers (eval gwin)

"stale fish from silchar"? 'm sure it was a slimy bong tryin to pass off as a mizo. hyak.

feddabonn said...

@gauri: i'm glad you think so! would like to extend this sorta thing to other cultures/subcultures. may get some interesting results.

@peer: not s'posed to read them, lol. i used to wear a puan over my jeans in college. wild years.

slimy bong indeed. i'm rather tempted to reveal exactly *who it was that entered that one, eh?

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised Vawksa is the 4th on the list, it's definitely #1 on mine.. :P
I think the line "The hills are alive with the Sound of Music.." pretty much sums up a lot of Mizoram's culture. :D

Jerusha said...

hahah @ 3. Things. I like that :)

I'm surprised by the Silchar stale fish entry. I'm pretty sure that would fade into oblivion if you were to send out a mail again but with a wider target range.

feddabonn said...

thanks for dropping by jerusha!

the stale fish entry was just one, lol. i just found it the most interesting!

i would like to do this again, with a wider range of people, and hopefully a larger number. need to get people in the right mood to respond though!

Shubhadeep B. said...

This is really cool. If I need to get to know a culture better, I would any day prefer such "research".

feddabonn said...

lol much thanks shubhadeep. i find it fascinating to tug and pull at the strands of culture and see what patterns emerge. having said that, this is a good/fun aspect/entry of understanding culture- i doubt it will ever be a replacement for proper research.

thanks for dropping by, welcome to bottlebroke!

Blind Dayze said...

the YMA.. yea ..i actually remember me father getting a certificate for 'academic achievement'..or something of that sort from the YMA..(Mission Vengthlang..) ..it was an annual thing i believe they did and he was on their list ...very nice of
them :-)(the year he got his 'Doc' degree...)

i guess the Mizos you know were/are not very active in Church :D.. anyways im assuming it came under church but like the YMA.. i guess KTP (kOhhran Thalai Pawl) is also a surprise miss..

feddabonn said...

didn't get enough of KTP to merit a separate group. i guess it is grouped under church in people's minds. i expected a separate YMA category based on a memory i have someone telling me that he was a YMA member, and would therefore 'vanram kai' even though he didn't go to church. i have no way of telling how common that sentiment is. i guess less common than i thought!

yeah, the YMA can be nice, even though they do have extremist tendencies every now and then.

Blind Dayze said...

sorry KTP.. = kristian thalai pawl ... :D ... i have to mention this error.. some people are thinking that i'm not a Mizo and they are laughing at me..

Kohhran Hmeichhia..was on my mind so hence the mistake :D...

reuben said...

Am surprised too that the YMA didn't receive much mention. Especially since the community is YMA. Without the community, YMA does not exist. YMA kan tih hian 'tlawmngaihna' kan sawi fo thin a, tlawmngaihna is not a YMA trait. It is a Mizo trait. YMA hi awm lo ta se, tlawmngai tho tur kan ni. YMA chu a kengkawhtu te mai kan ni. It is just a channel. And I say 'kan ni' in connection with the YMA because we are the community. We are Mizo. Well, at least half, in a case like mine. Isn't it strange that tlawmngaihna is actually expected of us? Before the birth of the YMA, I wonder, were people naturally inclined to tlawmngaihna or was it expected of them too, with bridle and stirrup perhaps? And horse blinders for good measure. Long live all that have gone off track.

reuben said...

Another thing. About the puan. Have heard the several theories about why men have abondoned it and why the women (are forced?) to still wear it.
Mipa puan i hmu hlawm tawh em? An mawi loh hlawm zia hi. Mizo hmeichhe puan te hi chu a mawi e. Each design. This is not an explanation of why men have abandoned it. More a question of aesthetics. Mipa puan hi lo mawi ve ta se I believe we would still have abondoned it. Wonder what makes it obsolete for men and not for women. Who decides? Or is it obvious?

reuben said...

As long as we're talking about the puan, THREE CHEERS FOR THE LANGOTHI; LONG MAY YOU RUN. (OR SWING?)

feddabonn said...

i rather like the mipa puan, actually. also 'mawi' depends so much on generational/individual tastes, also availability. i've read of how puan designs have evolved depending on what materials/dyes became available.

i wonder why men gave up the puan and women didn't too, while i find it hugely hypocritical for men to insist that mizo women wear puan.